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Out for change (continued)

FOR MORE than 30 years, various gay support groups have been assembling, dissolving, and evolving at Boston College. Until 2003, all were denied formal university recognition. Allies of Boston College, a gay/straight alliance that seeks to "consider issues concerning sexuality and sexual orientation in the context of the University’s Jesuit, Catholic tradition," is the only such group on campus that’s recognized by the school — and it took three attempts to make it happen. (Allies is now funded directly by the school, while other gay groups subsist on student-activity fees disbursed through the UGBC.) The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Community at Boston College (LGBC) has applied for official sanction many times — the last being 1995 — since it was founded as the Homophile Union in 1974, but remains an unrecognized and non-funded student organization. Smaller, more informal groups, too, like a women’s discussion-and-support group called Lesbian, Bisexual, Questioning, are not sanctioned.

Still, the UGBC senate’s recent vote to give the GLBT Leadership Council semi-autonomy and a separate budget, say supporters, is a great thing. "It creates a lot more opportunity for change to take place in a lot more positive direction," says Michael Yaksich, ’05, the UGBC’s outgoing director of GLBT issues.

Chris Young agrees, but he’s not yet satisfied. He thinks that the addition of sexual orientation to the school’s nondiscrimination policy is, for the moment, where the real fight lies. "I think the time is right for it, and I think logic and the Jesuit tradition are on our side," Young says. "And I know a lot of the students here are on our side."

BC’s nondiscrimination policy states that it "does not discriminate in employment, housing, or education on the basis of a person’s race, sex, age, national and ethnic origin, religion, disabilities, marital or parental status, veteran status or personal history." Rather than include "sexual orientation" in that laundry list, the policy tacks on an addendum: "In addition, in a manner faithful to the Jesuit, Catholic principles and values that sustain its mission and heritage, Boston College is in compliance with applicable state laws providing equal opportunity without regard to sexual orientation." Many gay students at BC see that second sentence as setting them apart. They view it as "separate but equal."

Boston College isn’t the only school — secular or religiously affiliated — to show resistance to amending its nondiscrimination policy. Boston University added sexual orientation to its policy only last December, after a two-decade battle between students and administration. (BU president emeritus John Silber had argued that changing the policy would require "the endorsement ... of pedophilia, incest, and bestiality.") But to everyone else gathered under the loose movement agitating for the amendment — a group called BC Equality — it’s precisely because of the school’s association with the Jesuits, an order that has always preached the values of tolerance and social justice, that the policy should be changed.

Young was raised Catholic, but says he’s "evolved into less a religious person and more of a spiritual person. I involve myself in prayer, in knowing that I have a relationship with Him, and believing in Jesus, but taking that outside of the dogma and doctrine of a church that I see as somewhat antiquated." Still, he cites "Jesuit ideals, which talk about building a community and caring for each member of that community," when talking about fighting for the amendment change. Schools like Holy Cross and Georgetown include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. Why shouldn’t BC?

Jack Dunn, the college’s director of public affairs, says it boils down to issues of legality and identity. Section 1 of Chapter 151b of the General Laws of Massachusetts offers an exemption from nondiscrimination laws for religiously affiliated schools. By referencing "state laws" in its policy, Boston College is invoking that protection.

The aim is to "safeguard the university’s freedom to remain faithful to its religious identity and mission," says Dunn. If it adds sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, BC may then be subject to the mandates of "civil courts which are unfamiliar with Church doctrine" and which might "jeopardize our ability to make decisions in accordance with our belief system."

Dunn contends that most Jesuit or Catholic universities that include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies do so because they reside in states where it’s required. BC, on the other hand, is taking advantage of protections afforded it under the laws of the Commonwealth. To those who see more sinister motives at work, Dunn responds, "Unfortunately, this became a question of discrimination on an issue where discrimination does not exist. There has never been a single complaint about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at Boston College. There are gay students and faculty who thrive here, and who are afforded all the same protections, including all the benefits that heterosexual couples receive. It’s an argument over semantics. I think Boston College has an excellent reputation, and that people realize it is a very welcoming place for all people."

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Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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